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Platform(s): Movie
Genre: Action
Publisher: Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date: July 17, 2015


Movie Review - 'Ant-Man'

by Adam Pavlacka on July 17, 2015 @ 12:45 a.m. PDT

Armed with the ability to shrink but increase in strength, Scott Lang must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor protect the secret behind the Ant-Man suit from a new generation of threats.

Many fans have wondered if "Ant-Man" could live up to the hype, given its troubled production history. This is a movie that lost its original director due to "creative differences" and stars a hero that most people probably had never heard of before the film was announced. While "Ant-Man" doesn't quite reach "Guardians of the Galaxy" levels of impressiveness, it does best many of the prior Marvel films, including "The Avengers: Age of Ultron." Yep, the little man packs a punch.

A big part of the reason why "Ant-Man" excels is the focus on characterization. This isn't a story where the fate of the world hangs in the balance but rather one of personal redemption and self-discovery. Yes, there are lives at stake, but they aren't unknown faces in the crowd. Everything that happens in "Ant-Man" happens to someone the audience knows, which makes the whole story feel a lot more intimate.

"Ant-Man" starts out by introducing us to the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), with a flashback to the end of his days with SHIELD. That early scene sets the stage for the rest of the film and ties in nicely with some MCU references. The opening also shows off the technical prowess of the special effects team. Much like Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Terminator Genisys," Douglas was "de-aged" for the flashback scene. Unlike "Genisys," the effects wizardry here is so good, it never actually registers in your mind that what's on-screen isn't real life. It's not until the following scene, when the film jumps forward to the present day, that the realization hits.

Douglas completely sells Pym as a jaded genius who doesn't trust the world to do the right thing if given access to immense power. He's careful and calculating but also has a soft side, putting family above all else. Douglas serves as an excellent straight man to Paul Rudd's more comedic portrayal of Scott Lang, ex-con and Pym's choice to don the mantle of Ant-Man.

Just released from prison for a financial crime, Lang is desperate to be a part of his daughter's life (portrayed with buckets of cuteness by seven-year-old Abby Ryder Fortson). The only problem is his ex and her new fiancé, a SFPD officer who would seemingly like nothing more than to put Lang back behind bars. Lang's desperation pushes him and Pym together. They're two misfits who don't necessarily want each other but need each other's help.

Evangeline Lilly rounds out the main cast as Hope Van Dyne, Pym's daughter. She doesn't trust Lang and resents Pym's controlling attitude, but Van Dyne isn't one to be pushed around. She pushes back and hard. Past Marvel films have arguably had a dearth of strong female leads, but that can't be said of "Ant-Man." Lilly puts forth a physical and emotional performance that will leave you wanting to see more of Van Dyne in future Marvel films.

This unlikely trio has to face off against Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), Pym's protégé and current head of Pym Technologies. Stoll does well with what he's given; it's just that Cross is something of a one-dimensional villain. He's rich, smart and has a glaring inferiority complex, but that's about it. We never really get to see what drives Cross aside from a superficial case of personal jealousy, so there is never a reason to get to know him or relate to the character.

The other area where "Ant-Man" is lacking is in the setup. The first act of the film has some amusing moments and gives us plenty of character background, but the pacing makes for a slow start. Compressing the story a bit at the front end and getting to the action sooner would have helped make "Ant-Man" an even better film.

At its core, "Ant-Man" is a heist story, and once the planning for the main event begins, the film really hits its stride. Think of it as a superhero version of "Ocean's Eleven." Both the action and comedy beats are well balanced, with the film smartly justifying why, in a world with superheroes, Ant-Man has to go it alone rather than calling in the Avengers for help. On the comedy side, Michael Peña manages to steal almost every scene he's in. Playing a member of Lang's heist crew, Peña only has a supporting role, but he's impossible to forget.

The ants themselves are worthy supporting characters, with personalities that shine through on the big screen. We haven't seen insects this adorable since 1989's "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids." You'll be cheering for more than one by the time the movie is over.

With a hero that can shrink and grow at will, the visual design of "Ant-Man" had to account for action at both scales. It's a challenging task, but one that director Peyton Reed did well. Not only does the camera framing account for the current scale of the characters, but Reed also deftly uses perspective changes to remind the audience that what we're seeing isn't always happening at full size. For example, one scene in the trailers shows Ant-Man fighting on a train. When the action is shown up close, everything feels epic in scope. Then the camera cuts to a wide shot, and we realize that the "massive destruction" looks about as dangerous as a child's toy.

The perspective shifting also allows for more than handful of smart sight gags, such as one bit where a fight happening at "Ant-Man scale" accidentally triggers Siri on an iPhone, resulting in some scene-appropriate background music. The visual design behind "Ant-Man" helps make the movie what it is. Without that strong sense of perspective, it wouldn't be nearly as good.

The strong visual design carries over to the 3-D effects. One of the best-looking 3-D films this year, "Ant-Man" puts depth to exceptionally good use, especially when he's small and bullets are flying all around. Nothing ever comes "out" of the screen at the audience, but the depth provided by the 3-D effect gives everything weight and makes the destruction that much more impressive.

"Ant-Man" may officially be the last film in Marvel's Phase 2 release, but it really feels like the start of Phase 3. This isn't a one-off epilogue that was tacked on after "Age of Ultron." "Ant-Man" is clearly laying the groundwork for the events of next year's "Captain America: Civil War" and beyond. There is even a blink-and-you'll-miss-it nod to the official inclusion of Spider-Man in the MCU. The film is smart, funny and packed with action. In short, it's pretty much everything you'd expect from a Marvel film.

Score: 8.0/10

"Ant-Man" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hours and 57 minutes. It is showing in 2-D, 3-D and IMAX 3-D.

Editor's Note: Like most Marvel films, "Ant-Man" features bonus scenes after the credits start to roll. There are two different scenes here. One occurs shortly after the credits start. The second does not appear until the very end of the credits. If you leave early, you'll miss out.

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